The sun is warm and the reflections of the trees swim green in the anchorage. The equinox is close at hand. But who can believe it on a day like this? Odd things are happening to the climate. It feels like summer.
The anchor comes up, dripping into the glassy water. The boat hangs for a moment. Then a zephyr stirs the branches, we hold the jib aback, and little eddies of wake curl away from the transom. The beach slides by, gives way to rocks, then to the horizon beyond the headland. As we cross the edge of the tide she heels to a puff.
What lies ahead?
We are moving now. The sun is still shining, but down to the west the world is hazy and dark. More wind bangs into the sail. The lee side goes down, and half a bucketful of water slops into the cockpit. If you think it will soon be time to reef, it is already time to reef, say ancestral voices in my head. Slack off the halyard, tack on the hook, haul down the clew, and away we go with a heart-lifting burst of acceleration, the wake roaring white now, the land dropping astern.
The edge of cloud is rolling up the sky. Writhe into the waterproof trousers. A raindrop splats on the coachroof. Then another. The world is suddenly a wet grey roar, and we are moving across a sea pocked with little craters. The rain streams down the sail, into the gutter of sailcloth made by the reef, and out again into the cockpit. Beyond the bow the world continues for perhaps half a mile, gives up the unequal struggle and fades into a grey murk.
We steer on, keeping the compass needle where it belongs. This is a small boat. Navigation is mostly by dead reckoning, checked from time to time against the ship's tablet. There is a passage plan, but there is also a slight doubt about the exact speed of the tide. But the tablet does not enjoy being out in the rain, so dead reckoning will have to do.
Rain, lovely rain
A couple of hours pass. The rain is steady, and creeping in to the oilskins, which are supposed to be breathable, which they probably are, but they seem to breathe in the rain as well as breathing out the air. A certain anxiety is setting in. There will be a landfall soon, but how soon?
I am squinting past the drips coming off the peak of the cap I am wearing to keep the oilskin hood out of my eyes. There is a shadow in the grey ahead. The shadow becomes a darkness: the coast. We begin to breathe more easily, but not much, as there are plenty of coasts out here among the islands. If it is the right bit of coast there should be a lighthouse on it. And it should be bang on the nose.
Something pale looms in the murk on the starboard bow. It is a lighthouse. We are half a mile off. Not brilliant, but that doesn't prevent a warm glow of relief. The rain is slackening as we thread the skerries, and the wind is rising. First the rain and then the wind your topsail halyards you must mind, say the ancestral voices. Head for the inner harbour. We watch the sounder. Three inches of water under the keel as we ghost across the bar.
Saved by the kettle
The last of the rain runs down my neck as I run up to the foredeck and drop the anchor. The boat swings. Below all is warm and dry, with the song of the kettle. The wind moans in the rigging and owls are hooting in the trees. It feels like autumn.